Saturday, December 20, 2008

Know your stuff

A new Pew survey was recently released, and the results are very strange. Apparently, a large number of Christians (half in evangelical churches and more than that in other Christian groups) believe that there is more than one way to heaven. The link leads to Dr. Mohler's analysis of the story, and he has some more details as well as links to the Pew data.

Furthermore, in this data is that these people who say that there are other ways to heaven say that the groups of non-Christians who get to go to heaven will do so by their good works.

I realize it can be a little awkward to tell somebody, "I believe that you'll go to hell if you don't change your faith," but this clearly isn't the answer. I can understand this coming from mainline Protestant groups, as they have been trending away from respect for the text for some time now. I can understand this from Catholics, as their theological leadership often seems more inclined to play politics with the other faiths of the world than actually stick to their guns.

But evangelical churches? This is oddball stuff for evangelical Christians. So where is it coming from? A desire to be "polite" in mixed company and not be "offensive?" Poor teaching from the pulpit? A trendiness in taking the title of "evangelical" without actually caring about the beliefs?

It's hard to say. But I will offer this to any of the Christians out there who want to say that there is more than one way to heaven: You can only reach this conclusion by actively ignoring the Biblical text. If you're going to believe as you do, then you either have to offer up a compelling reinterpretation of those verses or explain why those verses can be ignored.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Murine apocalypse

I've started my first rotation in an immunology lab, and I have to say that the transition is raising a few starts out of me. I've only ever worked with microorganisms, bacteria and yeast, so switching over to immunology's preferred model, mice, has been a strange experience.

The last two days I've gone to the vivarium to either observe or to practice handling the animals myself. It was somewhat disturbing to watch samples being taken from the mice, either orbitally (having a capillary stuck behind the eye to produce blood) or by snipping off a piece of the tail. I'd have guessed the latter to be incredibly distressing, but apparently this isn't the case.

I also watched as mice were sacrificed, either by CO2 asphyxiation or by having their necks broken. I'm assuming the latter is within proper protocol, though I'm not certain.

It's the sacrificial part that really felt weird. I've been a pet owner all my life, so it's rather jarring to see small, fuzzy creatures being killed. In my head, I know that it's all for the sake of scientific progress, and I personally have no problems with the use of lab animals, but that doesn't change the lurching feeling it gave me.

I suppose this is very similar to the reaction people have when they see these things at a slaughterhouse, on a hunting trip, or even on a family farm. As a society, we're largely removed from the production of our food, which puts us several steps away from these animals being killed. (I keep trying to come up with a good "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" joke, but it's not happening). We're far removed from the days where almost everybody had to kill an animal for food at least once in their lives, so it's understandable when the practice makes people a bit squeamish.

Still, maybe it's a good thing that I feel uneasy about the whole affair. The conventional wisdom seems to be that most serial killers get their start torturing/killing animals. I should probably worry if I ever start to enjoy doing it. Hm . . . what if many would-be serial killers end up in science careers so they can stick to what they know? What if science turned people into serial killers?

Incidentally, does anyone know a good recipe for fava beans? I was hoping for something that would go well with a nice chianti.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I guess Firefox is for whites

That's the only conclusion I can reach, and it sounds like someone reached the same conclusion.

Some things are just beyond parody. Seriously, do I even need to tell you why this is stupid?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Newsweek on Gay Marriage

I share Dr. Mohler's amazement that a reputable news magazine would put what is clearly an op-ed as its cover story. Priorities, I suppose.

The entire article is about the religious argument in relation to gay marriage, and how, according to author Lisa Miller, the Bible cannot be used to condemn it but rather to support it. There are so many things to unpack in her article I scarcely know where to begin. I could go through every paragraph in the article and find something wrong, but instead I'll try to hit the broader points and categorical mistakes.

First, Miller wants to argue that the Bible's lack of prohibition on polygamy means that it says nothing normative on marriage. We'll skip past that for now because I don't think arguing about Old Testament rules on polygamy really adds to anything here, but there's one small problem for her in this: Even if you accept that the Bible is okay with polygamy, how does this translate to acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage? The polygamous marriages described in the Bible were always heterosexual. It's a logical fallacy to say, "You're wrong, therefor I am right." The two can be mutually exclusive.

Next, Miller wants to argue that Biblical prohibitions and condemnation of homosexuality either isn't what it says it is or is no longer authoritative. She hits this from both the Old Testament (with the Levitical injunction against homosexuality) and the New (with Paul's condemnations against it, too). The OT argument is an old one, which I won't rehash here for sake of space. I will, however, ask a question: If Old Testament rules are no longer in force because they're "outdated," how do you decide which ones to follow and which ones to ignore? I'd say that answering that question is important to understanding Biblical interpretation, and critical to arriving at the question of the morality of homosexuality.

As for Paul, she writes that Paul was merely condemning the excesses of sinful Nero or Caligula, though she doesn't really get into why he would mention the homosexuality if he didn't think it was sinful. There's also the old argument that, in Romans 1, Paul is condemning those heterosexuals who practice homosexuality, not homosexuals just being themselves.

The problem with both of those arguments is that it ignores Paul's talk of homosexuality elsewhere in the New Testament, such as in 1st Corinthians 6. There, Paul describes those who are "unrighteous." He lists two groups, both of them homosexuals. In the greek, there are actually two words for homosexual: The one who "received" and the one who "gave" (and I'll leave the description at that). Paul condemns both, which ought to drive home the idea that it's the act itself that is singled out as sinful, not any particular mindset going into it.

Third, Miller argues that Jesus rarely talked about marriage and never about homosexuality, so clearly it's not an issue. This is, once again, an old fallacy: Jesus didn't discuss X, so X is not sinful. We don't know all the details about Jesus's ministry, so it's possible that he did discuss the issue at some point and it's lost to history as to what he said. However, considering his support of the law and for the unity of man and woman in marriage, I doubt he would have had much positive to say about homosexuality. Even that aside, Jesus came to Earth with a rather specific purpose and a rather specific message. His goal was not to reinforce Jewish law or to tell everybody how to live, how great brotherly love is, and how it'd be really nice if people would start getting serious about showing up at the Temple again. Jesus came to prepare the world for what was a major change in God's relationship with mankind; Jesus came to announce the solvation of the old covenant and the coming of the new covenant, to call people to redemption and to prepare them to understand just what his life and death (and life again) would mean.

I'll even toss in here her mentioning of Paul's singlehood, with his wish that everyone else could "be as [he] is." The thing is, Paul offers this up not as a "command from the Lord" but as his own personal advice. Paul's bachelor status meant that he was able to spend his life travelling the world and spreading the gospel. Paul only wishes that everyone else could take part in such a lifestyle! But Paul also acknowledges that everyone has different callings from God on their life, and that some people will inevitably marry. Again, I don't see how this equates soft support for gay marriage, as Miller does.

Finally, I just want to address the overall problem Miller seems to have in this. She makes a lot of statements that reveal the overall problem:
  • "Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history."
  • "But . . . if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God . . ."
  • "A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours."
At the root of this is the fundamental question of what the Bible is, who wrote it, and from where its authority comes. If you believe that the voice of God cannot be distinguished from the voice of men in the text, then how do you distinguish which parts of the text are still authoritative? If it's all just a matter of what "speaks to us" at this stage of history, then does one decide what is from God and what isn't?

No, this is an old argument, wherein Biblical passages are considered "out of date" and simply tossed aside. The problem is that this is theology by popularity; if enough people get together and decide they don't like verse X anymore, then let's just ignore it! God is speaking to us and telling us that we need to "move past" such outmoded thinking.

Miller goes on and on about the Bible's passages on love, inclusion, and acceptance, but she ignores a critical element of it. True Biblical love does not ignore sin. It does not accept it, it does not explain it away, it does not excuse it, it does not look past it. True Biblical love confronts sin directly, as Jesus died as the payment for our atonement. As such, everyone is eligible for inclusion in the new covenant, but there's a catch: Participation in the covenant means acknowledging your sin and repenting of it (that is, leaving it behind). The Christianity Miller rails against is very inclusive; she just wants them to change their definition of sin.

Corruption Charges in Illinois

Would every Illinois governor who isn't currently in or going to prison please step forward?

Whoa, not so fast Rod Blagojevich.

While Gov. Blagojevich (or as I like to call him, G-Rod) has been under investigation for corruption for a number of years now, this incident is completely unrelated to any of the previous investigations.

Apparently, this complain stems from Blagojevich attempting to sell the vacant senate seat left by President-Elect Obama. This being Illinois (and by that, I mean Chicago), I am in no way surprised. What surprises me is that he was caught so blatantly. I can only guess that some of the other players in the Chicago power structure decided that Blagojevich had become a liability and it was time to let him go.

I guess it's too much to hope that this might somehow get linked back to Obama, although at this point all that would mean is that we'd get President Biden instead. *Shudder*. Either way, it's about time something finally stuck to this guy. Blagojevich has played fast and loose with the rules ever since he came into office in 2000, so I'm surprised it took this long for things to finally turn out this way. Still, this can only mean more trouble for a state that is not exactly in good political and financial health to begin with. I'm curious where all of this will lead.

Of course, I'd love to pretend that I'm going to cover this in great detail, but who am I kidding? I am and always will be a "highlights" kind of blogger when it comes to big news stories. If you want good coverage and analysis, I might suggest an Illinois newspaper (one that isn't declaring bankruptcy, I might add), and of course the always impressive Capitol Fax blog.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Nobody understands irony

For the class I was taking this past semester, when we answered our exam questions we were given a limited amount of space and told that any answer exceeding that space would not be graded.

If you're the professor making the exam key, and you get to type your answer, don't you think it might be a good idea to be sure that the answer fits within that alloted space?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

You can pick your Research Advisor, and you can pick your nose . . .

Stop me if you've heard this one.

My semester's pretty much over, with all the in-class exams finished and just a take-home yet to go. I'm told by the older students that it's a cake walk, so I'm not stressing over that. No, what I'm stressing over is the end of the semester itself. Friday is the last day of classes and we're supposed to start our first rotation the following Monday. This wouldn't be so stressful if I'd get off my tuckus and find a lab.

I guess the problem is that I don't know exactly what it is I want to do with myself. Not that your PhD research has to be the defining moment of your career, but we've heard from a lot of professors who wanted to take students this year and none of them exactly set me on fire. I have other options than the people we've heard from, of course, but that means making a slightly less-informed decision, and I really hate doing that.

I guess I should be thankful we get to do three rotations (four if we're feeling indecisive). It's possible I'd still be at Northwestern if I'd had that option. Still, three rotations doesn't feel like it makes it any easier when the list of people I might want to rotate with is three or four times that long.

The only thing I would think to change about this system, at least up to now, would be to change how we hear from professors about their research. At the moment, it seems like professors who have funding and want students volunteer to take part in the research presentations to first year students. That's all well and good, but apparently the entire section of our department devoted to viral research got the email about speaking and went, "Meh." Oh, they have funding and openings, but apparently they think that ought to be a big secret.

Perhaps there ought to be conditions for making their presentations mandatory. I can't say what that might look like, but 90% of our presentations were from bacteriologists, and that just didn't do anything for me.

Hm, this post is over and I didn't say anything funny or controversial. Wait, I got it: Why didn't they do that?